Robert Pattinson - Actor of a Generation?

Image Credit: Emma Lampkin

Odin O’Sullivan looks at the rise of Robert Pattinson, and how his careful project choices have led him to be considered one of the most exciting and engaging actors of his generation.

There was a time when the name Robert Pattinson would only elicit two reactions, absolute teenage devotion, or virulent masculine hatred, both stemming from his performance as Edward Cullen in the Twilight franchise. That is no longer the case - although he still has the love of diehard Twilight fans and the dismissal of your weirdly macho cousin. Over the last decade, Pattinson has emerged as one of the most innovative and exciting actors currently working. 

In the wake of Pattinson’s casting in The Batman, many people seemed to still associate him only with his performance in Twilight, with journalists, fans, and others referring to him as “Twilight star Robert Pattinson”. This constant association of Pattinson with one of his early roles was a factor in his shirking from the mainstream film industry for most of the decade. On top of this, it is no secret that Pattinson did not enjoy working on the Twilight films, often mocking the writing and his own performance in interviews in the following years.

Cosmopolis (2012) by David Cronenberg can be considered Pattinson’s first foray into art-cinema by great auteur directors. Cosmopolis was such a departure from Pattinson’s previous fare that many were surprised. Robbie Collin of The Telegraph stated in a review that “Robert Pattinson, yes, that Robert Pattinson” was sensational, as if shocked that the heartthrob at the centre of those distasteful vampire movies could act. This trend continued until Pattinson’s appearance in David Michod’s The Rover (2014). His performance in The Rover was critically lauded, with many referring to it as a re-defining moment of Pattinson’s career, showcasing a distinct shift in critical, if not public, perceptions of the actor. The Rover was dark, it was uncompromising, and Pattinson did not play a hero or a heartthrob, but a needy, dependant criminal. A willingness to perform unlikable characters, broad and varied in their motivations, aligns Pattinson with actors like Robert De Niro, or Jean-Paul Belmondo and their consistent artistic choices.

Pattinson in this period begins to build an alternative stardom to the one he was thrust into as Edward Cullen. His unwavering choices to appear in often European art-house and indie films coupled with his refusal to consider mainstream Hollywood scripts positioned him as a rare kind of star outside of the general Hollywood model. Due to this, many casual filmgoers, or those who tend to pay attention to only blockbuster cinema, were not aware of Pattinson’s drastic project shift; that is, until the release of Good Time in 2017.

Good Time, the third film by the Safdie brothers, follows a Queens bank robber named Connie Nikas, played by Pattinson, on a nightmarish sprint around New York as he attempts to make enough money to post bail for his disabled younger brother. The acclaim the film received catapulted Pattinson back into the popular consciousness. Guy Lodge of Variety referred to his performance as a “career-peak”, with others highlighting just how commanding Pattinson’s on-screen presence was. Again, the character of Connie Nikas was a deeply flawed, violent, unscrupulous person, played by Pattinson as interesting and complex. Having mentioned before that he found it difficult to portray the “perfection of Edward” in the Twilight films, Pattinson’s gravitation towards these flawed, human characters makes sense.

After Good Time Pattinson had all but jettisoned his association with Twilight, with many beginning to associate him with his more recent critical success as opposed to his early blockbuster role. The success of Good Time not only proved Pattinson and his style successful but also allowed for a re-evaluation of the films he starred in previously, those which were overlooked or dismissed by those who saw him only as “that guy who played a sparkly vampire.” On top of all that, Pattinson’s run-away arthouse success has lent a certain critical capital to the films he appears in, allowing for him to assist new directors by appearing in their films, as well as prompting people to re-evaluate the Twilight films. He was unable to completely disassociate himself from Twilight though as many found his new films inaccessible or simply had no interest in seeing them, thus keeping their opinion of Pattinson rooted squarely in the Twilight zone.

His performance in High Life (2018) again drew rave critical reviews and was another massive collaboration with one of Europe’s most famed modern auteur directors, Claire Denis. This was followed quickly by another stand out performance in David Eggers’ The Lighthouse (2019); a raucous two-hander in which he held his own against seasoned actor Willem Dafoe. The almost universal critical acclaim has allowed for Pattinson to redefine his own stardom. He has refused to be typecast as only the teenage heartthrob post-Twilight and instead carefully selects interesting and broad projects, often helmed by tried and true artists.

This has once again opened the door to Hollywood and major blockbusters for Pattinson. However now he enters that door on his own terms, not as a sparkly vampire dream boy, but as a versatile and exciting actor. It is not known yet whether The Batman will be a good film but judging by Pattinson’s previous film choices, it’s safe to say it will at the very least be interesting.